No one knows how or why twelve year old Imogene Ridley was so smart and knew the things about people that she did. Some people said it was uncanny, others said it was miraculous, still others said it was the work of the devil. But everyone agreed that it was best to stay clear of Imogene because she just might reveal something about you that would embarrass you to death or possibly cause you to be locked up behind bars.
It all started when Imogene exposed her Aunt Nettie’s cheating habits. Imogene came right out and announced in front of the whole bridge club that Aunt Nettie was cheating and explained exactly how she did it. Aunt Nettie practically had a hissy-fit right there on the spot, followed by self-induced heart palpitations that caused quite a scene. But getting little sympathy, she abruptly stormed out of the bridge club meeting. She said she had never been so humiliated in all her life and that she would never darken her sister’s door again, at least while Imogene was there.
Imogene also exposed Uncle Elmer, how he secretly smoked cigars behind Buster Bradley’s garage in the company of Della Simpson, one of the town’s rather unseemly characters. Uncle Elmer’s wife, Pearl, upon hearing of the expose, promptly whacked Uncle Elmer over the head with an iron skillet and he’s been dizzy ever since. He also has a loud ringing in his ears that makes him say “What?” all the time and Aunt Pearl is sick of having to repeat herself. No one knows what Aunt Pearl did to Della Simpson, but Della has not been seen since Aunt Pearl went on her skillet swinging rampage. People think Della promptly left town. Of course, the refined ladies of the town were appalled that one of their very own female citizens would stoop to smoking cigars especially in the company of Elmer Whipple who was as nutty as a fruitcake and should be committed to the mental health ward on the seventh floor of the hospital. According to hearsay, some people felt Elmer had previously been in the mental health ward and that was where Pearl met him when her hormones wacky and she had to spend a few weeks there.
Of course, everyone wondered how Imogene could know things about people without being in their company. It was definitely uncanny. Her revelations, one right after the other, became quite disconcerting to the townspeople. It just didn’t seem right that some of the most righteous citizens were being exposed and people were getting mighty nervous. They couldn’t help but wonder who was next.
As it turned out, Pastor Obadiah Fuddles, of all people, was next. On Sunday morning he got up and gave a fiery sermon on how it was an out and out sin for some certain individual in the town to be making things up about decent church-going people and that the wrath of hell would surely reign down on such a tale bearer if it didn’t stop. Imogene was sitting in the front row of the choir listening to the sermon. Everyone said she couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket but they needed people in the choir so, much to the choir director’s dismay, Imogene volunteered. She looked almost angelic in her choir robe, with her long strawberry blond hair neatly braided, her large blue eyes, and her shiny freckled face. They say she had more freckles than Millie Birdwell’s polka-dotted dress that she wears every single Sunday, rain or shine. But when Pastor Obadiah was carrying on about sin he kept looking over and giving accusatory glances at Imogene. Imogene’s blue eyes grew large behind her dark rimmed glasses as the pastor kept emphasizing sin and tale-bearing.
Then right in the middle of Pastor Obadiah’s sermon , right when he was about to make his most fiery point, Imogene jumped up and as she did her chair fell backwards and banged the church organ and Pansy Percy, the church organist, who was half asleep, inadvertently played several ungodly chords on the organ. Members of the immediately choir stood up thinking it was time to sing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” people in the pews sprung to their feet thinking it was time to sing something, though they knew not what , and Henry Fultz, the town drunk, jumped up and started shouting “Hallelujah.” At least a dozen people in the pews, who had been asleep, sprung to their feet, saw Imogene in the pulpit, and thinking they were about to be exposed, trotted down the center aisle and knelt at the altar hoping to be forgiven. All of this served as a perfect prelude to Imogene’s newest expose.
Imogene walked over to the pulpit and peered at Pastor Obadiah. As they say, he froze in his tracks, turned white as a ghost, and began sweating like a stuck pig. It was as though he knew judgment day had arrived in the form of angelic Imogene Ridley. His plump body began to tremble even before she spoke, and his head, round and smooth like an over-ripe cantaloupe, was drenched in sweat.
As Imogene moved to the microphone, gasps were heard throughout the congregation as they all suspected another one of Imogene’s exposes was about to happen.
“I hate saying this as much as you hate hearing it,” Imogene said, “but I need to speak the truth. Pastor Obadiah has been stealing cookies out of the Girl Scout room just down the hall from his office and devouring them every day at noon. Sometimes he eats them in mid-afternoon. As you know the Girl Scouts meet in classroom 102 and keep all their Girl Scout cookies stored there. They knew boxes kept coming up missing but they had no idea who was taking them. Now they do. Pastor Obadiah did it.”
Having been exposed in front of the entire congregation, Pastor Obadiah began to tremble out of control, staggered backwards, lost his balance, and fell head first into the baptistery. He immediately began to yell and splash in the water. Some say they heard him use several cuss words. He thought for sure he had fallen into the pits of hell because the water was scalding hot. It just so happened that Eddie Godfrey, the meanest and most mischievous boy in town, had slipped into the church the night before and turned the baptistery thermostat on high hoping to see a really hot baptism. He was sitting in the back pew with an ornery grin on his face and was thoroughly enjoying Pastor Obadiah’s squeals.
Pansy Percy began playing “Shall We Gather at the River” to drown out Pastor Obadiah’s screams and threats. He kept yelling that he was going to get even with Imogene if it was the last thing he ever did. The refined women of the congregation whispered that his stealing the Girl Scout cookies was one thing, but now taking the Lord’s name in vain in front of the whole congregation was simply blasphemous. They immediately began drawing up a draft to have him promptly removed as pastor.
The whole town was now in an uproar. People were saying that Imogene’s exposures couldn’t continue. It simply wasn’t proper to know all about the unrighteous things that righteous people were doing. It made things too transparent which made everyone uncomfortable.
The straw that broke the camel’s back took place at the town’s annual July 4th celebration in Crestview Park. As usual, the whole town was in attendance to enjoy the festivities, including several hogs donated by Mayor Gilbert Graft and roasted over an open pit, providing plenty of meat for the entire town.
No one knows how Imogene Ridley got on the program to sing the Star Spangled Banner, but there she was, plain as day, standing on the stage, braids and all, dressed in a red, white and blue dress, waiting for Bugsy Lambert to play some chords on his keyboard so she could get started.
The whole crowd went dead silent, dreading to hear Imogene’s off-key singing, but mostly fearing what she might say afterwards since she would have the mic at her disposal. Ornery Eddie Grodfrey was the only one who wasn’t silent. He laughed and said, “I can’t wait to hear the fireworks that Imogene sets off when she gets done singing.”
Imogene didn’t disappoint. After a painful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, she stood on the stage before the entire town and said, “Everyone should know that while they were suppose to be on the job, Mayor Graft and three of the town’s commissioners got drunk down at Cider Pond yesterday and went skinny dipping and dear old Bertha Hamilton was out riding her bicycle on her 80th birthday and saw them. She was so rattled that she fell off her bike and broke her hip and is in the hospital. I just thought you should know that before you eat the Mayor’s hogs, and you should also know that the whisky they drank was paid for out of the city budget.”
Mayhem followed. The Mayor, his face as red as a ripe tomato, immediately huddled with the commissioners. Townspeople broke into small groups and whispered. The consensus of all the groups was the same — it was time to stop Imogene before she completely ruined their quiet little town. No more exposures would be tolerated. None.
Imogene walked over to the food table, calmly took a piece of water melon in one hand, her mother’s hand in the other, and said, “Come, mother, we need to go home.”
Because of her special abilities, Imogene knew she was no longer welcome or safe in Castle View. She knew that an angry mob of townspeople led by the Mayor and the commissioners would soon be knocking on the door. They were going to demand that she move out of town or else. They liked what the town was like before all her exposures and wanted it to be that way again.
Imogene and her mother did not tarry. They packed their bags and moved. And the town of Castle View returned to its old ways, just the way the people wanted it.
“It’s too bad she had to go,” the Mayor said, “but she knew too much.”